Japanese-Canadian Experiences during World War II:

Media Representation of “The Enemy”
Newspaper Content in British Columbia

Following Japan’s entrance into World War II, Japanese-Canadians were officially labelled as “enemies” by many mainstream Vancouver-area newspapers.[1] Notices directed to those of Japanese origin were posted in popular newspapers, such as the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, asking them to surrender all property to the Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property. Alongside these notices, articles and letters from readers often expressed similar views. These media sources would often support discriminatory policy by publishing content that used rhetorics of fear and hatred. The general public often read in their trusted daily newspapers that those of Japanese descent were dangerous and unassimilable[2]. Many mainstream newspapers portrayed that race trumped citizenship, and unfortunately had the government support behind it through the Office of the Custodian[3]. Going through the countless clippings kept from this time period in the F.G. Shears collection, I felt a great sense of a province divided. To best represent this conflict, I focused on a letter sent by a reader to the Vancouver Sun in 1947 which states, “We do not want any more Asiatics here. This is a white man’s country, and let us keep it so.”[4]

Scan of “Readers voice their opinion: Japanese in B.C.” clipping, Vancouver Sun, 1947, F.G. Shears Collection, Box 12, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

Mainstream Racism

The language used by popular newspaper outlets did little to diffuse the discomfort surrounding the Japanese-Canadian population. Notices sent from the Office of the Custodian justified the seizure of property under “regulations respecting Trading with the Enemy”. Due to these notices, Japanese-Canadians were considered distrustful and treated with suspicion, even if they had been born in Canada[5]. Further tensions arose when resistance to racist sentiments were discussed in the mainstream media. This report from the Vancouver Sun in 1945 demonstrates this issue, which read: “Alex Paton, MLA, declared that the Japanese could not be excluded from B.C. on strict racial grounds. ‘Those are the tactics of Hitler,’ he said.”[6] Complications arose when connections were made to the war being fought overseas, forcing many to confront their own prejudices. Although popular newspapers leaned towards supporting racist sentiment, resistance was present and caused heated debate within the British Columbian community. It was inspiring to find that, although rare, not all Canadians were on board with these racist policies.

Scan of “Richmond forms ‘Ban Japs’ League” clipping, Vancouver Sun, February 5, 1945, F.G. Shears Collection, Box 12, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

Impact and Effects

Beginning shortly after the Pearl Harbour attack, Japanese-Canadians were systematically forced into internment camps, taking with them only what they could carry.[7] After the war, the majority of Japanese-Canadians were free to leave the camps, but many had no home to return to. This was the intent of those in control, as the custodian F.G. Shears stated that through the seizure and selling of property left behind, it was ensured that “the Japanese owners will not be permitted to come back and establish themselves in Vancouver”[8]. The Office of the Custodian made little effort in the postwar years to remedy this, leaving most to fend for themselves and relocate across the country.[9] Whether these injustices were justified continued to divide Canadians, as those that were affected by it were not officially reimbursed until 1988, after decades of fighting towards redress.[10]


Alexis Moline is a Master of Museum Studies student in collaboration with Sexual Diversity Studies. She graduated from McMaster University with a Honours BA in Art History and Women’s Studies. Alexis is a curatorial assistant at the Sexual Representation Collection. Her academics interests include how art has represented sexuality and gender both explicitly and subtly throughout history and how this study can promote social change through the lens of cultural heritage and museum spaces.

[1] Marsh, 2012.

[2] Various clippings, (1941-1947). Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province, Vancouver News Herald. From Box 12 of the F.G. Shears collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

[3] Rocha, 2015, Slide 6.

[4] Readers voice their opinion: Japanese in B.C., (1947). The Vancouver Sun. From Box 12 of the F.G. Shears collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

[5] Rocha, 2015, Slide 5.

[6] Richmond forms ‘Ban Japs’ League, (1945, February 5). The Vancouver Sun. From Box 12 of the F.G. Shears collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

[7] Marsh, 2012.

[8] Roy, 2007, pg. 116.

[9] Miki, 2004, pg. 52.

[10] Miki, 2004, pg. 1.

Many mainstream newspapers portrayed to their readers that race trumped citizenship, and unfortunately had the government’s support behind it.